Law to be tabled restricting low-skilled workers

The new policy aims to reduce foreign workers in certain key sectors.

Employment and Labour minister Thulas Nxesi says that his department will introduce a new labour migration policy that would mainly address low-skilled workers in South Africa.

In a briefing to parliament on 5 March, the minister said the policy would be submitted to cabinet for approval.

Nxesi expects a “big debate”, saying there is a delicate balancing act required, ensuring that the Constitution is not violated in terms of the Bill of Rights and the right of everybody to work: “There are various international conventions we have signed giving rights to refugees, both legally and illegally. But how do we also respond to the pressure of the mass employment of our people at the lower levels?”

The minister said numerous interventions were being considered as part of the policy, but confirmed that his department was considering the introduction of quotas specifying how many foreign workers could be hired in a given sector.

Based on previous comments by Nxesi, the labour migration policy was likely to affect the hospitality, restaurants and security sectors, as well as farming and agriculture. Positions such as restaurant waiters and truck drivers are also likely to spark debate, having been previously identified by the department as having a high number of foreign workers.

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) published at the end of February revealed that South Africa’s unemployment rate is now 32.5 percent.

The QLFS shows that around one million people moved from the ‘not economically active’ segment of the population, which is broadly defined, but includes those who lost work during the Covid-19 lockdown, back into the workforce.